Do Breast Self-Exams Do Any Good?

I don’t really know what to think about this article from Time, which argues that conducting regular self breast exams may actually be worse for women than not. They argue that while self exams do lead to early detection – they frequently lead to the detection of benign cysts, resulting in unnecessary biopsies, scarring from these unnecessary treatments, and emotional scars from the imagined scare.

What this seems to indicate (to me at least) is that women need to be educated as to what they’re looking for – not just that they need to do an exam. In gyne instruction, we were trained to teach doctors to teach patients to look for anything that changes from month to month – and to not necessarily panic at every little lump and bump. Healthy breasts are full of all kinds of nodules and other weird-feeling bits of tissue, fiber, and ductwork. They change from day to day, month to month. Being aware of these normal changes will make it easier to notice when something abnormal pops up.

The results of this study also point to a trend towards overtreatment. I’m not sure what I can say about that, so I’ll just let it stand.

Regardless, I feel like it’s really irresponsible to discourage women from doing a simple, painless, easy thing that might lead to early detection. As the daughter and granddaughter of breast cancer survivors, and also as the daughter of an oncologist, and also as a former gyne instructor, I think I know what I’m talking about.